Poll: Americans Oppose FCC Regulation of Internet

Published May 6, 2010

A Rasmussen Reports poll show for the first time a majority of Americans opposes the Federal Communications Commission’s plans to regulate the Internet.

The poll, released in late April, asked, “Should the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulate the Internet like it does radio and television?” The breakdown: 53 percent said “no,” 27 percent said “yes,” and 19 percent said “not sure.”

“I think people think people like the Internet working the way it is now, and don’t want government to get involved and messing it up,” said Scott Testa, a professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. “Government tends to do more harm than good when it gets involved.”

Big Change in Public Opinion
The Rasmussen poll comes as the FCC contemplates regulating the Internet in unprecedented ways, from reclassifying broadband as a category subject to telephone-level regulation to imposing strict “net neutrality” rules that would micromanage how data moves over the Web.

This latest Rasmussen poll not only records a huge gap between those who oppose FCC regulation government and those who favor FCC involvement in the Internet but also shows a huge difference from two years ago.

Rasmussen asked the same question in 2008, and 49 percent supported stricter government regulation of the Internet.

Testa said the poll results reflect the public becoming more aware of the downsides to government regulation in other areas of life. People want to protect their technological experience from Uncle Sam’s hand, he says.

“The people are more aware of the issues regarding the Internet than they were two years ago,” Testa said. “People have seen what has happened with things like the Patriot Act. While people might like some parts of it, they dislike many others. People are more educated about the issues than they were two years ago.”

‘Government Is Not Welcome’
Daniel Brenner, former lead attorney for the National Cable and Telecom Association and an FCC employee in the 1980s, says the public is much more aware of Internet issues than they were at the time of the previous Rasmussen poll.

“In the last two years, there’s been a big tick up in the use of the Internet and the availability of broadband,” said Brenner, now a partner for the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, DC.

“It’s evident that big government is not welcome,” Brenner said, pointing to recent polls indicating public sentiment against incumbents up for reelection in November.

Wary of Regulation
Jeffrey Johnson, a partner with the Pryor Cashman law firm in New York City, says the public tends to support regulatory legislation more “in the abstract than in the particular.”

“There is concern these days over job creation and caution toward government intervention,” Johnson said. “I think that FCC intervention raises a lot of privacy hackles. More people favor the way the Internet works today than disfavor it.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.